The rainbow after the rain

I can’t believe my last post was so long ago. Sorry! Well, I’ll get the rubbish news out the way first. The lesion on my liver is definitely cancer. Fuck.  The multidisciplinary team meeting agreed that this was the case … Continue reading

The LD flap flop

I’d like to dedicate this post to my Gran, who passed away in December. I have a lifetime of beautiful memories with her and I consider myself extremely lucky to come from a line of strong, intelligent and generous women. We all share many traits and, apart from the forgetfulness, I’m thankful for them all. I hope she is at peace and reunited with my Grandad. 

My Grandparents. Weren’t they a gorgeous couple?!

If you’ve been following my progress from the beginning, you may remember that I’ve had terrible luck trying to have my left breast (the original offender) reconstructed. I lost my first couple of implants during chemo due to infection. They then tried to use an expander implant. This is designed to be filled slowly with saline which keeps the skin stretched and prepares it for an implant to eventually be inserted. 

The least ‘graphic’ image I could find of an expander

Unfortunately this didn’t work out for me as I’d had so much infected skin cut away during previous surgery coupled with radiotherapy damage (a build up of scar tissue and loss of ‘elasticity’). This left very few options for me, all of which were invasive and painful and I needed time to recover. I was given a soft prosthesis (think boob shaped cushion and you’re not too far off the mark) to wear until I was well enough to try one of them. I don’t think anyone would ever have imagined just how long that would take. 

In April of last year I found out that my breast cancer had spread into my spine, right hip and leg. This put my reconstruction plans on the back burner as I need to start treatment and have surgery to put a gamma nail in my femur to prevent further damage. I struggled to do simple things like; get in and out of a car, my bed and the bath, walking up and down stairs and kneeling/crouching. I had to have extra bannisters, grab rails and other additions fitted to help me around around the house. I needed to ‘learn’ how to walk again and depended on crutches even to walk a few feet.  Life was (and sometimes still is) very hard. The worst part of it all was the pain. I had to work with the pain management, palliative care and physiotherapy teams for months to help me get it under control. I’m now taking 600mg of oxycontin a day combined with a cocktail of gabapentin, diclofenac and, paracetamol and monthly bone strengthening injections. There are times when even this doesn’t help and I need a 60mg ‘breakthrough’ of fast acting oxycodone. This has been my saviour and is the only way I have of living anything resembling a normal life. 

That was all I wanted. Normality. I’d been using the prosthesis for over two years and I despised it. It was uncomfortable, it didn’t look or feel natural and it reminded me every day of everything I’d come through. I was prepared to go through whatever it took for one more shot at having a reconstruction operation. I knew there was going to be pain but, I knew I could cope with pain. I actually can’t really remember what it’s like living without it. 

So, on December 5th, I went into hospital and had a Lattisimus Dorsi  (LD) flap reconstruction. You can read more about it here: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/treating/surgery/types-of-breast-reconstruction/using-tissue-from-your-back.html

In hospital feeling nervous but excited to close this chapter of my life

For the first few weeks everything seemed to go really well. My pain was really well managed, I was able to get up and around without too many problems. The swelling was beginning to go down and I could see what the finished result was going to look like and I was thrilled. Around the 20th of December I started to feel a bit under the weather. This gradually progressed over the next week but I just assumed it was a sickness bug as there were no external signs of infection. However, a few days later, I noticed my surgical wound started to get a bit red. By the 29th, it had become hot and sore and I felt terrible. I called my lovely district nurse who rushed along to see me. I knew by the look on her face I should be worried. A few phone calls later and I was packing my ‘Oh Shit’ bag and I was on my way to the Western General in Edinburgh (my local hospital ward was closing down for the new year holiday).

I was admitted and given a side room on the cancer ward. It was apparent that this infection was very bad and I needed immediate treatment. Between my back and my new reconstruction, they removed almost 400mls of infected fluid then set me up with course after course of IV antibiotics and fluids. By early evening on the 31st the surgeon visited me and broke the dreadful news that the antibiotics hadn’t worked and I was first on the next morning’s list for emergency surgery. 

New year’s eve is my husband’s birthday and it was devastating not being able to spend the evening with him. I made him promise me that he would go out and have fun but he didn’t want to go anywhere without me. We compromised by getting a few people (including one our best friends, my mum and step dad) to go to our house and have some drinks, play some games and basically try to take their minds off of what was going on. It’s times like this that remind how difficult all of this is for them.  

I was so ill going in for this operation, I didn’t have much time to worry about it. That happened after I woke up. There were some complications removing the intubation tubes from my throat. This  made my stats drop very suddenly and I had to spend the next 24 hours in the high dependency unit, in a tangle of monitors, wires and cannulas that wouldn’t let me move. I was in a ward with 2 other people who were seriously ill. The woman next to me didn’t wake up during my entire stay. I was only reassured that she was still alive by the sounds of her occasional laboured breathing and the constant beeping of her monitor which was out of sync with my own. The woman across from me threw up more than I knew was physically possible! I was frightened for us all and tried to cry as quietly as I could in a bid to be left alone long enough to try to fall asleep. All of my belongings were in my room on the cancer ward so I had nothing to keep my mind off the situation I was in. I felt like I’d gone through so much for absolutely nothing. I was so angry at myself. I’d chosen to go through the previous surgery therefore I must have been to blame for the outcome. It’s still taking me a while to try to stop thinking that way. 

Flushed and feeling rotten but I need a photo for my blog! 

I was allowed to go home on January 4th and felt such a mixture of emotions. On one hand, I was delighted to be back to my husband and close to my family. On the other, I was so sad to have missed out on all the festivities and I just couldn’t move past the trauma of what had just happened to me. 

Now, more than 2 weeks have passed. I feel a lot better physically and I’ve had a new (much more realistic and comfortable) prosthesis fitted. Steph and I have made a new year’s resolution to do at least one nice thing every month. Hopefully that will help with the psychological aspect. 

I’ve also resolved to update my blog a lot more and to include you in the fun parts of my life, of which I intend there to be many! 

Thanks for making it through this blog, it’s been a hard one to write, I hope it’s been worth it to read. I’ll leave you all with my very belated wishes for a very happy, healthy New Year. 

Fill it with nice things! 

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The Wedding 

Hooray! We got married! This post is dedicated to the love of my life, my best friend, my husband, Steph.  Steph and I have never really liked the idea of a traditional church and hotel reception style of wedding. Mostly … Continue reading

The Decision

Today was the day, 2 months after my secondary breast cancer diagnosis, that I was meant to have all the answers. I thought I’d go in, sit down and be told “right, this is the action plan….” and I’d walk out the door feeling relieved.
When is life ever like that? Never.
What actually happened was that I went in and told that my story is a complicated one (no shit!).
I have cancer in the base of my spine, my hip and femur. The femur is the part that physically could use getting looked at first. The particular area where there’s most ‘activity’ is at the top of the bone, before the knobbly bit (excuse my complex medical jargon) and is the most likely part to fracture or break. The idea would be to drill through the top of the bone, insert a metal rod and put a few screws in down the length of my thigh. Nice right? Doesn’t sound utterly terrifying at all!
Looks a bit like this

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Hopefully mine will happen before the fracture occures

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Fuuuucckkkk!

Now, the complicated bit. From most of the tests I’ve had, it would seem most of my pain is actually coming from the area in my back. So, if I had this surgery first, I’d have post surgery pain (a lot of it) as well as my existing level of pain. There are other negatives too. Surgery comes with all kinds of risks, namely infection and blood clots. Add into the mix that we are getting married in August after a long haul flight and that risk is even higher.
With so many problems, maybe it’s time to look at option 2? That is, blast the area in my back with radiotherapy and try to address the pain in that area first. Once that’s done, we head off, get married and once I’m home, I have the surgery and radiotherapy in my leg.
Seems like a fairly straightforward decision? Well, except for the fact that if I don’t get this surgery, I’m very likely going to break that bone. It could be as simple as banging it against a table or falling over my dog (he LOVES getting in the way). I can’t even begin to imagine the pain involved with breaking my femur. It makes me feel pretty sick thinking about it.
The decision isn’t so easy now…

It may have crossed your mind while reading this that the wedding shouldn’t be given as high a priority as my health. At this point though, the wedding is of higher priority to me. I have loved Steph for almost ten years and planned on getting married for over two. This illness is not going away and is not getting better. I would rather lose my entire leg than be denied the opportunity to marry him. This wedding is happening! It’s what we both have to get us through the difficulties that have been and are still in the pipeline. I want whatever happens next to happen as his wife and with him my husband.

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The best reason I can think of to go through this

So, the next step forward is for the surgeon to go off and consult with his wee surgeon friends and my oncologist and get them to take votes/draw straws on what they think they should do.
I should find out in a day or two. Any opinions are welcome. Maybe we should do a tally and send it to the surgeon to enable his decision making process.
Every one for option 1, raise your hands?

The check in

I haven’t written in a while. Sorry! The reason for my absence? Well, I’ve been trying to get on with getting on.
I set myself 3 goals in my last post so I’ll update you on them.

1. Work
I’m now approaching the end of my phased return and (very) slowly building up a bit of stamina again. I’m still tired at the end of each work day but I’m happy that I’m starting to gain confidence and feel as though I know,  more or less, what I’m doing again.

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Back to work with the girls

2. Health
I joined Slimming World a couple of months ago and am getting on fairly well. So far I’ve lost 16lbs and can feel a difference in myself.  My shape is changing and I’m fitting into clothes I haven’t worn in 2 years.
The combination of menopause, estrogen blocking drugs and number of high dose painkillers I’m taking make gaining weight extremely easy so I’m really pleased with my progress. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself to have lost a specific amount before the wedding,  just to feel a bit more confident and be happy to have my photo taken.

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My second award

I’m still having problems with my hips and have had a terrible week of pain. Luckily my medical team haven’t gotten tired of me complaining (or are doing a great job of covering it up if they are) and I’m getting an appointment for a bone scan within the next week. I understand that these are issues that I’m going to have to face as my payment for getting rid of cancer but I’d hoped to put off anything seriously debilitating until I’m a bit older! I’ve decided I don’t have space in my heart is head to get stressed out about this until I have to.

3. Education
In my last blog I mentioned applying to do a college course in graphic design. We’ll I’m pleased to say I got in and I’ll be starting in August. I’m definitely going to find it challenging as I’ve been out of education for almost 12 years and my treatment has made retaining information and concentrating quite hard. However, I’m looking forward to it. I need to start stamping down positive parts of the ‘new me’ rather than my endless list of negatives. 
In preparation, I’ve created a nice new office space in my old sewing room (which I sew in maybe once a month now). I saw it as an opportunity to up-cycle another piece of furniture too. So, it was on with the old clothes, out with the chalk paint and away I went.

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The 'before' picture

*waves a magic wand*

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The 'after' picture

Ta-Da! I always love completing a decorating project. It makes the room feel exciting again. I’m going to start making my wedding dress pretty soon too so I’ll be spending a lot of time in there.
My bed is going to wonder why I’ve abandoned it.

The radiators and the drains

Going through a really tough time often brings friends closer together and they show just what wonderful, giving, caring and kind human beings they are. These people make you feel truly blessed. They lighten the burden and help cheer you up when you really need it. They also give you a chance for normality. They tell you about their life, you support them, offer advice, share jokes… Friend stuff.

When it boils down to it, there are two types of friends. The first are the radiators. These are the kind of people who emit positivity. They leave you feeling good about yourself and you really look forward to spending time in their company. They are the ones that you belly laugh with and who you can accidentally spend 2 hours on the phone to when you only called to ask a quick question. If you have a couple of radiators in your life, you’re pretty lucky. Make sure you treat them well and try to be a radiator for them too.

The second group are the polar opposite. These people are the drains.

Drains are the type of people who thrive on negativity. When you spend time in their company it’s usually to complain, bitch, moan and generally leave you feeling tired and stressed. If the mere thought of spending time with someone makes you feel exhausted, that person is a drain.

Being ill changes a lot of things, least significantly, you can’t socialise in a way you used to and for some friends, that seems reason enough to up sticks and walk/pedal/paddle out of your life.

For others, their reasoning for abandoning you when you need them most is that they find it too difficult to be around you. Sick people are scary though right? Best wait 6 months or so until you appear to be well again and the illness that’s turned your world on its arse can be ignored. 

Others take an even more cowardly approach and literally delete you from their lives. I shit you not, I’ve had friends delete and block me from facebook in the middle of my cancer treatment. Who does that? Well, I won’t name names but some people do. And have.

As a generally positive person, I’ve kept my mouth shut about some of the hurtful behaviour of people I care about in a hope that I could get over it and go back to normal. Yeah… That can’t happen. Friendships can be mended but those cracks will always be there and you can’t ever forget that.

Some friendships sadly just run their course and no one is really to blame for that. Each person is left with happy memories of times past but the chances of you meeting up and hanging out in future are slim. You move on. It’s sad but it’s normal.

The last group in this category are the ones I’ve made the decision to leave in my past. These are the type of friends that were never really good friends in the first place but it’s taken the kick up the backside cancer gave me to realise that there’s just no room for the selfish, needy, rude and arrogant, let alone classifying them as a friend!
Kind of like cleaning out a wardrobe, this is a cull that’s probably waited way too long to happen but, once it has, leaves you feeling relieved and with much more space (and time)!

Time that can be dedicated to all those lovely radiators.
They are worth it!
Here are a load of photos of my wonderful friends. All radiators, all awesome!

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My long suffering friend, Avril

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One of oldest and best friends, Pauline

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An old photo with 2 of my oldest friends, Jana and Joanne

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My best friends from uni, Tery, Nicola & Fiona

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Glenda, Alan & Steph: the 3 best radiators ever!

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My fab friends from work

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My BBQ buddies